The new single from RCA recording artist Jake Owen might take a few listeners by surprise. The sensitive "What We Ain't Got" definitely sticks out from anything on country radio these days and also sets itself apart from Owen's usual fare. The same could be said for the stark and powerful video that has just been released by the singer to promote the record, which is currently No. 25 on the Country Airplay chart this week.
The clip features many characters that are in the midst of several addictions, illnesses or demons that they are trying to overcome. But what makes the clip even more effective is that many of the people in the video are not playing a role, but are in the real-life throes of their own respective battles.
"It was really important to have the people that we used in the video," Owen told reporters at Nashville's RCA offices. "The first guy you see is Travis Meadows, who wrote the song. It was important to have him in there because everything he went through to write the song -- from addiction to losing his wife -- you can see it in his face in the video. The lady without hair, the girl in the wheelchair -- it was real important to have real people and real scenarios in the song to help with the message of it as opposed to it just being me."
The record was one that Owen went after himself, rather than the usual approach of being pitched the song by a publisher. "I love Travis as a singer/songwriter. A couple of records ago, I cut one of his songs called 'Cherry on Top,' which is a long way from this song. He had a record called 'Killin' Uncle Buzzy,' which he wrote when he was getting treatment, and the song was on the record, and I would sit on the bus while I was out on the road and listen to it," Owen said, admitting that the song hit him between the eyes as well as in the heart. "There was so much honesty in it. I've learned that in order for me to move on down the road in my career and be a part of this genre that it's all about great songs. It doesn't matter who wrote it or where it came from. It's all about the music."
The singer continued the proactive approach, contacting Meadows directly. "I called him, because I didn't know if it was too personal of a song because of that record. I told him that the song was so brilliant, and though I had never been addicted to any kind of drugs or been divorced, there was one line in the song: 'I wanted the world until my whole world stopped' -- that hit me. As a 33-year-old man that is married with a child, I try to balance my life out on the road. I've noticed that my chase of wanting to be better and wanting to win awards sometimes clouds my vision of what is real on a day-to-day basis. Although I might not relate to the song in other ways, that's what hit me. I asked him if he minded if I recorded the song, because I really wanted to sing it. I wanted people to hear this side of me. I believe in music like this. It also gives me a chance to be something different than the 'Barefoot Blue Jean Night' guy. I fought hard for it to be a single, because I felt like it was the time in my career to put it out."
Not that Owen is apologizing for any of his tempo-driven hits like the summer smash "Beachin'." He tells Billboard, "I'm fine with the stigma of it. I worked for six or seven years having pretty decent hits to the point where 'Barefoot' came out, and it was, Bam! Then all of a sudden, I became that guy. But I'm really excited to use the platform and the chance that song gave me to make music that means something to people. Then again, the songs that have been huge in my career have meant things to people too. People remember where they were when those songs came out."
Owen says that with the current single, he has received many strong comments from his fellow artists, such as Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelley and Frankie Ballard. He's happy about that, but insists he's just trying to take it all in stride. "I'm just doing what I've always loved about country music. … Miranda Lambert can have songs about lighting guys on fire or partying, but when she released 'The House That Built Me,' it really helped to solidify her career as a viable artist in the format. The same with 'Chattahoochee,' which wasn't a deep song, but it gave Alan Jackson the path to release songs like 'Remember When' and 'Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).' When I look at people like Kenny Chesney or Conway Twitty, who had long careers, there were those anchor songs that were solid and meaningful."
And if "What We Ain't Got" puts the name of Jake Owen in the conversation for CMA and ACM Awards, he would not be offended. "I want to be nominated for Song of the Year or Entertainer of the Year. It's one thing to want it, but you've got to work for it and do what it takes to get it. Hopefully, I can continue to beat down the doors."